During May, the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) released a Request for Information (RFI) on Technology-supported solution(s) to enable improved adult literacy and numeracy. In the RFI, TEC indicated they are seeking solutions to help over one million New Zealanders aged 16-65 with low literacy and numeracy skills to improve their skills and capabilities. Existing literacy and numeracy programmes are currently reaching an estimated 143,000 people every year with only 32,000 being ‘heavily engaged’.
TEC is to be congratulated on recognising that there could be technology solutions for helping to scale up current programmes by a factor of 7 to 10. But they are likely to be disappointed if they are looking for a silver bullet or even a number of silver bullets. Our advice is to link this challenge to the Government’s digital inclusion work programme. It is probably not surprising that people with low literacy skills are over-represented amongst the digitally excluded. But rather than view technology as a solution to scale up existing literacy and numeracy programmes, we could possibly achieve better outcomes by redefining the literacies that are most relevant to a digital world.
Our proposed approach is to focus on clearly understanding the context for learning; this starts with understanding the motivation or benefits for each learner and then ensuring learners have access to the necessary tools and the skills to use these tools as well as the trust to continue using them. This mirrors the four key elements of digital inclusion – motivation, access, skills and trust.
So our suggestion to TEC is to tackle the digital literacy challenge first in collaboration with people who understand what works and what doesn’t, as well as local community-based organisations that have strong trusted relationships with the people they support.